LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than four decades after Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, his convicted murderer wants to go free for a crime he says he can’t remember.
It is not old age or some memory-snatching disease that has erased an act Sirhan Bishara Sirhan once said he committed “with 20 years of malice aforethought.” It’s been this way almost from the beginning. Hypnotists and psychologists, lawyers and investigators have tried to jog his memory with no useful result.
Now, a new lawyer is on the case and says his efforts have also failed.
“There is no doubt he does not remember the critical events,” said William F. Pepper, the attorney who will argue for Sirhan’s parole Wednesday. “He is not feigning it. It’s not an act. He does not remember it.”
Sirhan may not remember much about the night of June 4, 1968, but the world remembers.
They have heard how Sirhan was grabbed as he emptied a pistol in the crowded kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel here where Kennedy stood moments after claiming victory in the California presidential primary. They heard how he kept firing even as his hand was pinned to a table. They heard how Kennedy, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was shot and died, changing the course of American history.
Parole board members are bound to review those facts, but they won’t consider the many conspiracy theories floated over the years.
Mr. Pepper, a New York-based lawyer who also is a British barrister, is the latest advocate of a second-gunman theory. Believers claim that 13 shots were fired while Sirhan’s gun held only eight bullets and that the fatal shot appeared to come from behind Kennedy while Sirhan faced him.
Mr. Pepper also suggests Sirhan was “hypno-programmed,” turning him into a virtual “Manchurian Candidate,” acting robotlike at the behest of evil forces who then wiped his memory clean. It’s the stuff of science fiction and Hollywood movies, but some believe it is the key.
How Mr. Pepper plans to use any of this to his client’s advantage remains to be seen because it will have little bearing on the decision of the panel that must determine if Sirhan is suitable for parole. The board is not being asked to retry the case, and lawyers may not present evidence relating to guilt or innocence.
At issue is whether Sirhan, 66, remains a threat to others or to himself, whether he has accepted responsibility for the crime and expressed adequate remorse, and whether he has an acceptable parole plan if he is released.
His lack of memory makes expressions of remorse and accepting responsibility difficult.
Sirhan could address that if he speaks at the hearing at Pleasant Valley men’s prison in Coalinga. Whether he’ll do that is uncertain. He rarely has commented during 13 past parole hearings and sometimes hasn’t shown up at all.
Mr. Pepper said in an interview with the Associated Press that he has had Sirhan examined several times by psychologist Daniel Brown of Harvard University, an expert in hypnosis of trauma victims. He will not disclose exactly what was accomplished in the sessions but said, “There have been substantial breakthroughs.”
Mr. Pepper said he may have more to say after the hearing.